The Top Chef Paradox

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 | 0 Comment(s)

So. I love Top Chef. While I think the host (Padma) is entirely too skinny to be a food critic, i find that the show has opened me up to a whole new world of cooking. I can assure you that phrases like "flavor profile" and "wine pairings" rarely came out of my mouth pre-season 4 (when i began watching on the regular). And I have found it personally inspiring to "plate" my own meals, as evidenced by the following photographs of dishes i've put on the dinner table. I can say, without hesitation, that these pictures never get taken in a world where top chef doesn't exist. It simply never would have occurred to me.

(ok so the last one is just a cookie cake--but cookie cake is SO GOOD)

Is my food as good as it looks. Sometimes. But it always tastes better when described with words such as "infused," "reduced," and "finished with." I may not be able to cook, but man o man can i talk. So, to recap. I love the show. It's added to my life in practical ways, and in a world of absolutely useless reality shows, I like one's that actually ask their participants to have some shred of talent. (as an aside, it makes my heart hurt that America has so embraced "having plastic surgery" as a talent--if you have had multiple Chances at Love or tried to Rock love with 30 some women three times and still haven't found the Playboy Model you want to settle down with, perhaps the broadcast television mode of dating isn't for you]). I'm just sayin. Annnnnyhow.

So, at this point, you have to be wondering if i understand the definition of the word "Paradox." (you may also be wondering if my blog is going to fly away giving all of the """"" in it.) So here it comes:

I think watching a show based on the quality of food is the dumbest fucking thing in the world. I mean, first off, taste is subjective. For instance, I hate asparagus. The last line of one of my college essays (yes im a dork for remembering this) is "I will always throw rock in rock, paper, scissors, and asparagus makes me gag." Now, Every year or two I try asparagus again to see if my taste buds have changed. And while I do occationally throw a scissors I still can't shovel down a plate of asparagus without retching. More for the rest of you. Yes dad, I realize it's a delicacy. I still would rather feed it to the imaginary dog you never let us have. And this is the point, if a delicacy can taste like dog poop to me, there is a factually subjective aspect to taste.

Secondly, WE CAN'T TASTE FOOD THROUGH THE TELEVISION!!!. While Wonka may be working on this still: to the best of my knowledge there is no way to actually taste (or smell) what the Rock (or the Top Chef chefs) are cooking. Which leaves us trusting other peoples "refined palates" to judge their cooking. In essence, we are watching a show where other people taste food that we can't taste or smell ourselves, and then tell us how to feel about them, regardless of if their tastes are similar to ours or not (though i secretly think Tom Colicchio and I would get along famously). This isn't true of all talent based reality shows, such as Project Runway, where at least you can have your own opinion about the outfits they send down the runway. Nope, besides presentation, we suck at the teet of the Top Chef producers' and judges' whims and can't really argue about the results.

So there's the paradox, I love and grow from a show that I think is, by definition, insanely stupid and conceptually misguided. Help me out folks. Am I missing something?

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